They escaped a mass kidnapping of schoolgirls in Nigeria. They graduated from high school in the mountains of Oregon. And now, Lydia Pogu and Joy Bishara can add a visit to the White House to their life story.
The young women met with President Trump and Ivanka Trump on Tuesday, telling PEOPLE that their goal was to keep their missing classmates on the world stage, and to express their appreciation for being able to finish their education in America without fear.
In a letter they read to the president, they described their dread of the insurgents who grabbed them from their school in the town of Chibok in April 2014. “Three years ago, we and many of our fellow students were kidnapped by the Boko Haram terrorists,” they began. “Our boarding school was burned to the ground. We were lucky. We escaped.
“But even after our escape, we lived in fear that the Boko Haram would return,” they continued in the letter. “We could not sleep in our own beds for fear that they would come back and find us. At night, we slept in the bush. Finally, we came to America, where we could finish our high-school education in safety.”
Watch Lydia Pogu and Joy Bishara on the series People Features: Boko Haram: Our Journey To Freedom, available now, on the new People/Entertainment Weekly Network (PEN). Go to people.com/PEN, or download the PEN app on your favorite device.
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Boko Haram has massacred thousands and displaced millions in recent years, in an effort to create an Islamic state and wipe out Western education from schools. Pogu, 19, and Bishara, 20, told their dramatic tale of escape in a recent interview with PEOPLE, describing how the terrorists stormed their school, shooting guns into the air.
The men forced nearly 300 girls onto open-air trucks that night, spiriting them away to a forest lair. Pogu and Bishara risked their lives to leap from the moving trucks, then fled through the dense African bush all night, finally finding a ride home the next day.
The kidnapping sparked a global outcry and the viral “Bring Back Our Girls” hashtag campaign. A few dozen girls managed to escape, mostly on that first night, and more than 100 girls have been released in recent government negotiations with Boko Haram. But more than 100 girls remain missing.
“We were honored to welcome Joy and Lydia, two incredible young women from Chibok, Nigeria, to the White House,” Ivanka said in a statement provided to PEOPLE.
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“They shared with me their remarkable journey in overcoming tremendous adversity, and I am in awe of their courage and heart. I look forward to watching them flourish,” the first daughter and presidential advisor continued in the statement.
Pogu and Bishara came to America in August 2014 with the help of a human-rights group in Virginia, the Jubilee Campaign. After two years in boarding school in Virginia, they transferred to the Canyonville Christian Academy in Oregon for their senior year.
They graduated in June, and will head to college at Southeastern University in Florida this fall. They visited the White House along with the president of the Canyonville school, Doug Wead.
Over the summer, Pogu and Bishara will fly home to Nigeria, thanks to money they raised through a GoFundMe page. The trip will mark the first time they’ve seen their families since they left home three years ago.